'Cosby Show' Actress Ethel Ayler Dead at 88

Ethel Ayler, the actress best-known for portraying Carrie Hanks on The Cosby Show, passed away last month at the age of 88.

Ayler's family just announced her passing on Friday, according to a report by PEOPLE. The actress passed away in Loma Linda, California. The details of her passing are still unclear, but she leaves behind a lifetime of staggering work.

"With a career spanning over five decades, Ayler had a recurring role as Carrie Hanks, [Clair] Huxtable's mother on The Cosby Show has come home to rest," read Ayler's online obituary.

Ayler began on the stage before moving on to sitcom fame. She was born in Whistler, Alabama, and broke into the mainstream in 1957 when she was in the Broadway debut of Jamaica. She had a storied career on the stage, even appearing in the original 1987 production of Fences by August Wilson, alongside James Earl Jones and Courtney B. Vance.

Ayler did impactful work on both the big and small screens as well. She had roles in movies including Eve's Bayou, The Bodyguard and To Sleep With Anger. For the latter, she won an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best supporting female.

She was a familiar face on the TV circuit in those years as well, with guest roles on Friends, 7th Heaven, Melrose Place and Sister Sister, among others.

Of course, to most, she will be most recognizable as Carrie Hanks. She held the role for the series' entire run from 1984 to 1992, bringing a stern seniority to the beloved sitcom. She played mother to Phylicia Rashad, when in actuality Ayler was only 18 years older than the other actress.


Ayler's career is even more incredible taking into account the racial adversity she faced. When her career began, Jim Crow laws were still in effect, yet she found ways to do some of the most progressive and prestigious work of the era. Ayler's off-Broadway debut was in a production of Langston Hughes' musical, Simply Heavenly. She also appeared in Jean Genet's off-Broadway sensation The Blacks: A Clown Show. The production earned three Obie Awards at the time, including Bes New Play.

Ayler enjoyed longevity that few performers can achieve in the entertainment industry. Her last major Hollywood appearance was in 2006 on 7th Heaven. After that, she settled down into a mostly private retirement.